Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Drummer @ Liquidation of HeathCo

On my brief vacation this week I had the immense pleasure of visiting Salisbury, which despite its many chavs is nonetheless extremely cool.

Time does change things, however. My reaction on seeing Stonehenge 1997: "Woooow. An amazing monument to the ancient intelligence of the human race and possible outside influences." My reaction on seeing Stonehenge 2007: "Jesus. Can someone get these crappy rocks out of my way?" This probably relates, as I've said in posts passim, to my anger and, indeed, humiliation at seeing things I previously believed in or even worshipped turn out to be nothing, faked, or just there, with no deep background to them at all.

Salisbury Cathedral on the other hand is magnificent. It isn't a bizarre spiritual experience, like Chartres; it's not a powerful political moment like Rheims; and it ain't a great omnihistorical object like Rouen. But what it is is perfect. You can see the mathematics pouring off it. You can feel the little gags, the in-jokes, the cheeky repetitions soaking into the transepts and the buttresses. Instead of imposing and awe-inspiring as the naves of Amiens and Beauvais (before it collapsed, presumably) aim for, Salisbury is peacefully, lightly, beautiful with its slender columns of Purbeck Marble and its complete architectural coherence (alright, except for the utterly, supermodel stunning spire). Built in a scant 30 odd years, like the drummer, it exudes the confidence of its designers, the faith of its designers, and the fullness of its designers' worldview. Unlike the drummer. The completeness of Salisbury is unusual among gothic Cathedrals (Canterbury was something like 500 years in the building, demolition and re-building) and it gives it those spendid, dancing lines across the entire length of the nave and chancel (often gothic cathedrals are, say, - mid-gothic nave, late gothic chancel, norman transepts or something like that).

It won't blow your mind, but does perfection ever? You just think that it's right, really right (or I do anyway).

Anyhoo. The tombstone of the late Sir Edward Heath sits near the altar. I'm sorry to say that my first thought on seeing it was "Wot, no effigy?" but at least the stone reads "Statesman, Musician & Scholar". There is nothing else. I expected an exhibition, as I haven't visited since Heath was living, but no. I thought his house might have become the museum he desired, but apart from the departure of the men with machine guns, there is nothing there. I felt very sad looking at it. I recalled his stubborn bulk, his half-arsed fight to save the desperate Britain of the early 70s, and suddenly felt a great, insignificant, lightness that this figure of our troubled living past was stuffed under a stone here. Perhaps it gives him his best chance of historical survival, or maybe that's what he thought - but already you can feel that no-one remembers, no-one cares. Our recent history is our worst recalled, our least cared about. How much had he worked to create, how little he did create, and how little anyone really gives a toss a mere 30 years later - it nearly, but not quite, brought a tear to my eye among the tombstones of minor aristocrats and the Tory historian Arthur Bryant, whom the drummer-dad loves.

The title of this post refers to Private Eye's spoofing of Heath as the CEO of HeathCo (like the Dear Bill letters, or the parish newsletters from the vicar of St Albion's). It sounds good in retrospect, to paint him as the super-professional, ambitious but slightly unscrupulous head of a going-places company: but he wasn't, and it didn't. It must have seemed like a crap joke at the time, which is presumably why people often talk about the Dear Bill letters, but no-one gives a monkey's about HeathCo.

HeathCo was crap anyway. The lights kept going out.


Crushed by Ingsoc said...

While you were there, did you visit Old Sarum?
I love the place.
With regard to the Grocer, shouldn't Statesman have come after musician?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, drummer. I agree - Salisbury Cathedral is magnificent and I just cry and cry when I go there - its sense of the past, its history and its meaning for the little girl I was who loved it. Poor old Sir Ted. He was not so bad. He had a vision and did all he could to achieve it and that is more than many of us will ever do. [I don't mean you and me , of course!]

Not Saussure said...

As I recall, Private Eye's HeathCo wasn't the company newsletter of a 'going-places company'; it comprised, rather, the sort of From the Chairman column that George and Weedon Grossmith's Mr Charles Pooter might have written had been in charge of the sort of enterprise one would have expected the author of The Diary Of A Nobody to run. Or possibly Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army.

I recall it as being amusing enough, though it certainly wasn't as funny as Dear Bill, nor, indeed as was Mrs Wilson's Diary. This, I think, was partly because the diary/letters form gave the writers far more scope to develop comic characters and situations than did Heathco, where the jokes depended very much on the (now long-forgotten) headlines. The main joke of Heathco was, as I recall, that the boss was pompous and unself-critical beyond belief and completely out of his depth.

The Tin Drummer said...

Notsaussure: Hullo. Yes, you're right. I should rather have said that this was how Heath wanted to portray his go-getting Govt from 1970. The Eye instead saw a narrow-minded Grocer with a developing reputation for not actually knowing much about leadership in politics. What it did try to play on was the sense (which Heath's cabinet wanted to create) that there would be real business and entrepreneurialism going on: which was quickly shown to be not the case.
There was one good HeathCo joke about "resuming hardware sales to companies in South Africa" or something but otherwise it was fairly tame.

WL: nice to see you again. I did feel a bit sad to see the stone, which I *misquoted*: it actually reads "Statesman, Musician and Sailor". He was a very able person, which only makes the struggles of his govt the harder to understand.

CBI: no I didn't. I had wanted to though.

Colin Campbell said...

Kim Beazley, the recently deposed Australian Labor Leader reminded me of Ted Heath. Very nice, intelligent politicians, who were not particularly successful. I wrote about this similarity earlier in one of my blog posts, when he wasn't able to make traction against the Chief Australian Ewok, John the Invincible Howard.

I worked for the National Coal Board in the late 1970s, just down from Hyde Park Corner. Ted Heath's residence was just around the corner. I never met him, but I would have liked to.

The Tin Drummer said...

Fascinating stuff, Colin. I'd love to know what working for the NCB in the early 70s was like!

A bit like a government-bound episode of _Life on Mars_ I would imagine!

On the politics, I think Heath was faced with intractable political problems, rather than an all-conquering opposition leader. Wilson's govt had severely disappointed after 64-70, especially in the field of economics (we tend to idolise that administration because of its social legislation but in reality a lot of people thought it was crap and it left most problems unsolved or getting worse) - but he was elected back in 74. I guess the public thought only Labour could tackle the unions, especially after 72 and 74.

From what I can gather, Howard has kind of blitzed his opposition leaders. Is that right?

james higham said...

I can see you treading the ancient path. Did you trip over any Wiccans greeting the sunrise?